Sometimes you just have to leave.
At the start of this summer, many of the people in my circle of care were giving me high-fives and fist-bumps. When the school year ended, my first summer off in nine years loomed ahead. On paper it sounded like a wonderful idea, especially after a school year that had more than a few harrowing moments. Time to relax, slow the pace down. Time to do the thing everyone in the world where I’ve found myself talks about – but that felt like a foreign concept to me. Time for vacation.
It wasn’t entirely an intentional plan. My school launched a summer course for teachers several years ago, and it was described as necessary if a teacher wanted to advance in any way. I don’t have many ambitions in administration or school leadership these days, but after almost ten years in once place, ‘advancement’ seemed like a good idea. There just wasn’t a way to schedule the sort of summer job that I find immersive and fulfilling around two weeks of midsummer professional development.
Maybe I should have found a job. I could have started as a cashier or delivery driver with flexible scheduling, or worked harder to launch myself as a freelance designer who de-emphasizes the ‘free’ part. But instead I took an inventory of the anxiety, stress, and burnout signs that had intensified as the school calendar trickled along. I took an even more honest inventory of how old I’ve felt lately – my body unwilling to crawl out of bed at five a.m., wincing as I try to climb on a horse without a mounting block, creaking as I try to run around the block. The students I teach don’t age. They are the same age, year after year, but they never used to seem so invincible to me. As I’m getting older, it’s like my body and my mind are asking the same sorts of questions about my place in the world, and the doubts are slowing me down. Taking some time to rest and re-assess sounded like the right thing to do.
What I could not have predicted was how hard it would be to shift gears so abruptly. My life suddenly switched from twelve hour workdays to the opportunity to sleep twelve hours at a clip. It was like hitting a brick wall. Sure, I could have gone to the studio, or planned a new year’s worth of curriculum, or taken an online class. But the things I used to love about making and learning felt too much like work. Wasn’t I aiming to avoid work for a couple of months? Even if it was work I once loved?
Please understand – these questions were new to me. It had always been a given that I’d spend my summer immersed somewhere along the continuum of work/not work with a paycheck. But now I was choosing to avoid all of it for awhile. And that decision felt very complicated.
So I lived it for almost three months. I woke up every day. I left the house, I stayed home. I read books, I watched movies. I reconnected with some friends. I played with my dog, I started riding horses again. I completed the summer course while asking a lot of questions and trying not to get overinvolved. I thought a lot, about a lot of things, and I often felt pretty sad.
Life felt what I think people describe as normal, or relaxed. I didn’t write much. I didn’t feel like I had much to say. The world felt pretty small.
I know that I won’t take another summer off.
The summer is almost over, and now a pile of work looms in the shadow of what’s left. But before it’s over, I’m taking a bit of time to see if I can stretch my world bigger again. It feels like the painful first muscle twinges when you haven’t run for awhile – and to extend the metaphor, a few ligament tears almost kept me on the couch.
I want to remember how strong and scared I feel right now, sitting solo in the airport waiting for my boarding call, with U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For miraculously on the loudspeakers. Because this summer I’ve learned that feeling strong, scared, doubtful, and challenged recharges my batteries a lot more than relaxing afternoons with my toes in the sand. If that sounds strange, it’s maybe one of the least strange stories I could tell about everything I noticed in my life once my head was clear.
Sometimes it takes leaving to find a charging station.
Sometimes it takes a recharge to find the words again.